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CEOs actively manage innovators' careers

At some companies, management and HR folks proudly say, "We have career structures and policies that are consistent company-wide." The problem is, the statement also means: "We cannot change our structures and policies." This is typical at companies with ordinary leadership teams. Innovations either do not happen or they are not sustainable.

In contrast, what happens at most leading companies in the West (and some in the East) is totally different. Senior management -- the CEO in particular -- has responsibilities associated with the innovator's career. One such responsibility is the placement of innovators. Often, they place innovators outside the regular organization structure. This increases the likelihood that the innovators will actually create new businesses.

JP Morgan Chase, for example, created what it calls "ascension plans" to chart potential career paths for future innovators. And the company did it in concert with the innovators themselves. CEO Jamie Dimon believes it is "foolish to think there's only one possible, ideal career path for our high-potential managers most likely to one day orchestrate large-scale innovations." If the right position does not exist for an innovator, Dimon or another executive team member creates it. "Our biggest sin would be to correctly identify future innovators, only to ignore them by letting them sit and stew in existing positions," Dimon told the authors of Finding and Grooming Breakthrough Innovators (Harvard Business Review, December 2008). He considers developing breakthrough innovators to be one of his key responsibilities, and one in which his board is highly interested.

How does your organization manage innovators?

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